Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism assessment and intervention has been an area of particular interest for me since completing my internship training at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Child Study Center and doing a rotation on Developmental Disorders. I have continuously been amazed by the wide variation in symptomatology and functional abilities among the children I have had to the fortune of seeing. I often think of an adage I once heard, “If you’ve seen one child with Autism, you’ve seen one child with Autism.”
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities, including Autism, Asperger’s and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS, which are associated with significant social, communication and behavioral difficulties. The rates of ASDs have climbed significantly over the past several decades. Now, it is estimated that 1 child out of 88 is diagnosed with an ASD. Boys are almost 5 times more likely (1 in 55) than girls (1 in 252) to receive a diagnosis. While there are no clear answers to what is causing this epidemic, the weapons we have to combat it are early diagnosis and intervention.
Many parents of children with ASDs notice early developmental differences before the age of 3 years. While some children show signs within the first few months, others do not show symptoms until they are two years or older. There are still others who seem to develop typically until they are between the ages of 18 to 24 months and then stop gaining new skills or lose abilities they once had.
Symptoms range from mild to severe, with some individuals displaying few symptoms, contrasted by others who exhibit many characteristics, which are of a high level of severity. Characteristics and behaviors include social and communication difficulties, as well as unusual interests and behaviors. Some possible symptoms and characteristics are listed below.
- Does not respond to one’s name
- Prefers to playing alone
- Avoids eye contact
- Fails to imitate others’ behaviors
- Lacks boundaries for personal space
- Avoids physical contact
- Lacks insight into own or others’ emotions
- Has delayed speech/language skills
- Failure to point to objects or respond to pointing
- Repeat words or phrases repetitively (echolalia)
- Gives unrelated answers to questions asked
- Substitutes pronouns (i.e., says “you” instead of “I”)
- Uses few or no gestures (i.e., waving goodbye)
- Talks in a flat, monotone or sing-song voice
- Interpret language literally (does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing)
Unusual Interests and Behaviors
- Arranges toys or other objects
- Has highly focused areas of interest
- Becomes fixated on parts of objects (i.e., wheels of a toy car)
- Follows certain routines ritualistically
- Engages in motor movements repetitively (i.e., hand-flapping, rocking or spinning)
- Problems with focus/concentration
- Self-injurious behaviors
- Emotional outbursts/tantrums
- Unusual sleeping and eating habits
- Lack of fear or more fear than expected
- Unusual reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures and visual input
If you have noticed some or many of these symptoms, please contact a psychologist with expertise in the assessment of children with ASDs and schedule a formal evaluation. Testing likely will include measures of intellectual functioning, executive skills (i.e., attention/concentration, simultaneous information processing and working memory), verbal and visual memory, fine motor skills and academic achievement, as well as the use of other diagnostic tools to formally evaluate social, emotional and adaptive functioning.